March 22, 2016

4 Reasons Scribes Are Booming

The use of medical scribes is booming: nearly 20% of physicians employ one. Reports point to the ever-increasing ubiquity of electronic health records (EHR). And it’s true that legislative and regulatory changes are big drivers of medical scribe adoption.

But if those were the only benefits, the number of medical scribes wouldn’t be expected to rise quite so exponentially over the next five years — nearly 600%, by some estimates. So what else are physicians, facilities and hospitals getting from adding scribes to the mix? Here are four reasons scribes are important for healthcare.

Increased efficiency and productivity for physicians

Medical scribes help physicians document all medical details and events during patient visits. Sounds like something physicians can do themselves, but having a scribe adds value beyond merely ticking boxes on the EHR. Because scribes are focused on one task, they can fully record the story of the patient encounter while the patient is in the room, with no need for the physician to write up patient documentation later — when there are no more appointments, but the day is long from over. One physician says he can now review 15 to 20 scribe-produced charts in under half an hour, whereas the same workload used to require 2 hours at the end of each day, just to update charts. Similarly, physicians are able to focus on their core task: eliciting details from and caring for the patient. When free from the burden of documentation and digital EHR data entry, physicians who work with scribes are able to see an average of one additional patient per hour.

This increases the efficiency of doctor/patient encounters and, over the course of a day, lets doctors see more patients in less time, which is increasingly necessary due to the higher numbers of patients per doctor, spurred by the Affordable Care Act. By allocating tasks to the scribe, the productivity of each medical visit is maximized, while time is minimized, and doctors can focus on what they do best in order to deliver accurate and quality care.

Improved quality of doctor-patient visits, patient satisfaction, and value care

More time allocated for actual examination of and discussion with the patient means that physicians are able to truly engage patients. For patients to feel truly cared for, it’s important that physicians “maintain eye contact, hold conversations and make personal connections with patients,” which can be difficult at best when a physician is alternating between patient and computer. These actions aren’t just good for the patient — quality face time with patients lets doctors make accurate diagnoses and order more appropriate tests, ensuring they’re providing the right level of care. As a result, physician job satisfaction is enhanced, right alongside patient satisfaction levels. Because positive ratings of patient satisfaction affect reimbursement rewards, it’s no longer optional that patients must walk away feeling satisfied that their doctor listens to them and has their best interests in mind.

Alleviation of EHR struggles

Electronic health records were supposed to make documentation more organized and easy to use for hospitals and physicians (and even patients). However, the combination of user-unfriendliness and the added effort of data entry into the electronic system has proven to be a constant source of stress, potentially leading to errors in accuracy and sub-optimal healthcare quality due to physician burnout. Scribes relieve doctors of these digital record-keeping burdens and ensure the accuracy of documentation and billing. It’s not just the day-to-day fiddling, either: would you rather physicians spend their educational time on the latest developments in their fields, or keep up with large-scale changes such as the switch from ICD-9 to ICD-10? Practices, facilities and hospitals that employ scribes have an easier time transitioning from 13,000 codes to 140,000, because the time invested to relearn the new procedures is rightfully allocated to the person whose sole responsibility is diligent documentation for accurate and successful billing.

Streamlining the billing cycle

Thorough, accurate patient documentation can also facilitate the efficiency of the revenue cycle by providing everything coders and billers need to efficiently complete and submit claims. Even better, when medical scribes are connected in real-time to coding personnel, issues can be clarified on the spot, allowing claims to be submitted within hours rather than days. In this way, scribes save billing time while accelerating the revenue cycle — critical for generating income for a practice or hospital — without compromising quality care.

Change is a constant in healthcare, but the inevitable bumps in the transitional road don’t have to hamper productivity and quality. Medical scribes are a cost-effective solution that bring more to the table than mere transcribing, so that efficiency, quality care and satisfaction are experienced by patients and physicians alike.